BACK OUR VETERANS HEALTH -- (Extensions of Remarks - March 31, 2004)
HON. BOB FILNER
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2004
Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, since the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) health system, the Nation's doctors of chiropractic (DCs) have been kept outside the system and all but prevented from providing proven, cost-effective and much-needed care to veterans, including those among the most vulnerable and in need of the range of health care services DCs are licensed to provide. In 2002, 4.5 million patients received care in DVA health facilities, including 75 percent of all disabled and low-income veterans. Although the DVA health care budget is roughly $26 billion, in 2002, less than $370,000 went toward chiropractic services for veterans.
I am proud to introduce legislation-H.R. 4051, the Better Access to Chiropractors to Keep Our Veterans Healthy Act (BACK Our Veterans Health Act)--that is designed to provide veterans with direct access to a doctor of chiropractic, if that is their choice, through the veterans health care system. In developing this bill, I have worked closely with chiropractic patients, particularly our veterans, who know the benefits of chiropractic care and bear witness to the positive outcomes and preventative health benefits of chiropractic care. I was also pleased to work with the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), the Nation's largest chiropractic organization and the national voice of doctors of chiropractic and their patients. I am told by the ACA that there are more than 60,000 doctors of chiropractic and in excess of 25 million chiropractic patients across America.
Specifically, my bill seeks to amend title 38 of the United States Code to permit eligible veterans to have direct access to chiropractic care at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics. Section 3 of the measure states that "The Secretary [of Veterans Affairs] shall permit eligible veterans to receive needed [health care] services, rehabilitative services, and preventative health services from a licensed doctor of chiropractic on a direct access basis at the election of the eligible veteran, if such services are within the State scope of practice of such doctor of chiropractic." The measure goes on to directly prohibit discrimination among licensed health care providers by the DVA when determining which services a patient needs.
Over the years, Mr. Speaker, representatives of the Department of Veterans Affairs have come before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, a panel on which I serve, and have insisted that chiropractic benefits are available to veterans and that no bias exists within the DVA against the chiropractic profession. But the facts I cited above speak otherwise. For all practical purposes, access to chiropractic care has been nonexistent within the DVA system. Chiropractic care has so seldom been offered to veterans that it can be fairly said to be a phantom benefit-and for years, Mr. Speaker, the DVA has done nothing to correct this deficiency. There is simply no evidence that the DVA has ever acted proactively in any meaningful and substantive way to ensure that chiropractic care is made available to veterans-and because of that track record of neglect that the U.S. Congress felt compelled to take action. And as a result, Congress in recent years has enacted three separate statutes seeking to ensure veterans access to chiropractic care-Public Law 106-117, Public Law 107-135 and Public Law 108-170. The last of those statutes gives explicit authority to the DVA to hire doctors of chiropractic as full-time employees. I'm proud to have worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help advance those initiatives-and I am hopeful that a reluctant DVA has finally seen the light.
I understand that the VA Secretary Principi has just released some new policy directives regarding chiropractic care and that, at last, we may be on our way to seeing the true and full integration of chiropractic care into the DVA. But Mr. Speaker, if the past is any guide to the future, then I must remain concerned until I see these new polices firmly in place and working well in all DVA treatment facilities. To help ensure that in the future, barriers to veterans who want and need chiropractic care are fully removed, I am pleased to introduce legislation that would require the DVA to make chiropractic care available on a direct access basis to our veterans. If the previous legislation had actually been implemented, my legislation would not be necessary-because referrals to doctors of chiropractic would actually be taking place with the encouragement and support of the DVA leadership. I hope this is what happens under Secretary Principi's new guidance-but as insurance, Mr. Speaker, in case the Department loses their newfound enlightenment somewhere along the way-perhaps under a less supportive Secretary-then the enactment of the legislation I propose would guarantee the right of a veteran to obtain this important service without the cost and stumbling blocks of going through potentially hostile gatekeepers. Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting unimpeded access to chiropractic care throughout the veterans health care system and help enact this measure.